Aussies waiting for a home care package blows out to 68,000

The number of Australians waiting for a home care package has increased to more than 68,000, with departmental officials conceding it is becoming harder to access the scheme.

Home care packages (HCP) allow older Australians to access a range of services in their own home, to either delay or avoid moving into residential aged care. Supports can include nursing, food preparation, assistance with personal hygiene and cleaning.

Senate estimates were told that by the end of last month, 68,109 people had been approved for a home care package but were waiting for the support.

That’s more than double the 28,665 people waiting for a home care package at roughly the same time last year.

The list has been steadily growing, reaching about 51,000 people by December.

The Department of Health and Aged Care’s Russell Herald said it had become harder for people to access the level of care for which they had been approved.

“We have seen a deterioration of access particularly in the past six months,” he said.

Mr Herald said it was unclear why there had been a significant change, but was asked to provide his general thoughts.

“If I was a betting man I would link the increased demand to the cost of living, so just taking that little bit of pressure off,” he said.

“If you look at the data and growth in referrals, the lion’s share appears to be in domestic assistance, so your cleaning, etc. They tend to be more of your lower end needs clients.”

Another official noted that Australia has a growing ageing population.

Different packages for different needs

There are four levels of home care packages that provide different amounts of funding.

Level one is for people with basic care needs, level two is for low care needs, level three is for intermediate care needs and level four is for high care needs.

The amount a person is entitled to ranges from $10,000 to just over $59,000 a year.

Officials revealed in senate estimates that as of 31 May, 117 people were waiting for a level one package, 17,611 for level two, 36,524 for level three and 13,857 for level four.

As the waiting list has grown, wait times have similarly blown out.

It now takes nine to 12 months to access a level three package, compared to six to nine months in June last year.

For a person wanting to seek services on a level four package, the wait time is six to nine months. In June last year, it took between one to three months.

Additional home care packages

Earlier this year, the government announced an extra 24,100 home care packages would be offered in 2024-25, and aged care minister Anika Wells claims those classified as needing urgent care are receiving home care packages within a month.

Liberal Senator Anne Ruston asked officials what the “catalyst” was for determining that figure. The deputy secretary of ageing and aged care Michael Lye explained that officials believed the figure would help reduce wait times.

“That is the best combination of extra packages to get to an average waitlist of six months,” he said.

The department’s Thea Connolly said the majority of the extra packages would be assigned to level three.

“There is quite a wait for level three packages, so the allocation of the additional packages is heavily skewed towards level three and indeed subsidised by a reduction in level one and level two packages,” she said.

Officials said the overall aim is to reduce wait times to six months for packages at any level.

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